The SIG-III Blog

Notes from the ASIS&T special interest group in international information

Archive for the ‘Libraries and librarianship’ Category

Ajit Pyati, SIG-III Officer, in First Monday

Ajit Pyati

SIG-III’s Ajit Pyati (above) has just published an article titled “Public library revitalization in India: Hopes, challenges, and new visions” in First Monday. Here is the abstract:

With India’s growing economy and status as an emerging world power, a new consciousness is developing in the country about the need to reinvest in public services. The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) is an advisory body constituted by the Prime Minister to provide recommendations for improving India’s knowledge infrastructure. As part of this Commission, a set of recommendations has been developed to improve India’s long neglected library system. This article explores the implications of these recommendations, with a specific focus on India’s public library system and the social development gains that are often associated with public libraries. The potential of India’s public libraries to serve as community information centres (CICs) is highlighted, as well as the challenges that lie ahead in implementing a new vision for public library revitalization. The article serves as an invitation for concerted action, reflection, and dialogue with regard to this important and pressing issue.

The full article may be found here.

Article by Ajit Pyati. Blog post contributed by Aaron Bowen.


Written by sigiii

July 8, 2009 at 4:47 pm

UNESCO and the Library of Congress partner to launch the World Digital Library

Book by sculptor Walter Kirtland Hancock

Image by takomabibelot, used under the Creative Commons license.

The following announcement comes from the Knowledgespeak newsletter:

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and 32 partner institutions will launch the World Digital Library, a web site that features unique cultural materials from libraries and archives from around the world, at UNESCO Headquarters on April 21. The site will include manuscripts, maps, rare books, films, sound recordings, and prints and photographs. It will provide unrestricted public access, free of charge, to this material.

The launch will take place at a reception co-hosted by UNESCO Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura, and US Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington. Directors of the partner institutions will also be on hand to present the project to ambassadors, ministers, delegates, and special guests attending the semi-annual meeting of UNESCO’s Executive Board.

In addition to promoting international understanding, the project aims to expand the volume and variety of cultural content on the Internet, provide resources for educators, scholars and general audiences, and narrow the digital divide within and between countries by building capacity in partner countries.

The WDL will function in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, and will include content in a great many other languages. Browse and search features will facilitate cross-cultural and cross-temporal exploration on the site. Descriptions of each item and videos with expert curators speaking about selected items will provide context for users, and are intended to spark curiosity and encourage both students and the general public to learn more about the cultural heritage of all countries.

The WDL was developed by a team at the Library of Congress. Technical assistance was provided by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina of Alexandria, Egypt. Institutions contributing content and expertise to the WDL include national libraries and cultural and educational institutions in Brazil, Egypt, China, France, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Written by sigiii

April 13, 2009 at 2:14 pm

The Libraries of Timbuktu

A manuscript from Timbuktu

Image by ازرق, used under the Creative Commons license.

Not many outside central Africa are familiar with them, but the libraries of Timbuktu are an extensive wealth of knowledge and culture. From today’s Der Spiegel:

Fabled Timbuktu, once the site of the world’s southernmost Islamic university, harbors thousands upon thousands of long-forgotten manuscripts. A dozen academic instutions from around the world are now working frantically to save and evaluate the crumbling documents…

Albrecht Hofheinz, an Arabist from Oslo, estimates that there are up to 300,000 forgotten manuscripts in Mali. Insect bites have discolored the pages, he says. “The paper disintegrates, is destroyed by mold or eaten by termites.” Time is of the essence. Some of the volumes are being photographed using a digital photo studio provided by the University of Chicago. The first of the documents are expected to be available on the Internet by the end of the year.

This will be an excellent resource for scholars of Islam and of central Africa! I look forward to watching this work unfold and progress, especially since it is the result of years of effort.

Contributed by Aaron Bowen

Written by sigiii

August 1, 2008 at 2:52 pm

A portrait of libraries in Mexico

True it’s a couple of years old, but I just ran across Siria Gastelum’s portrait of Mexican libraries in Críticas Magazine. Describing the Red Nacional de Bibliotecas Públicas (RNBP), Mexicio’s national public library system, Gastelum writes that

Established in 1983, the RNBP is run and funded by the federal government. The main office, in Mexico City, formulates all education and literacy programs for the entire network and provides each local library with its entire book collection, furniture, and equipment, as well as the outreach material and training for librarians. Local governments cover salaries for the personnel and allocate some extra funding, but there is no national standard when it comes to a public library budget.

Census statistics show that each public library in Mexico is visited by an average of 25 users a day, most of them students. Historically, the public library system has been linked to national education policies that make it mandatory for school children to visit libraries. However, this policy has transformed the library from a place to read for leisure to a place to get information only.

At first blush such a system certainly sounds different than a public library system in the United States. Whereas libraries in the U.S. would be more likely to favor localized policies regarding their collections and educational programs, Gastelum notes that the RNBP centralizes these functions in Mexico City. And whereas many libraries in the U.S. have taken efforts to promote themselves as a community plaza or gathering point as well as a library, Gastelum suggests the RNBP is specifically more of an information hub. The RNBP’s website doesn’t look like a website for a public library in the U.S. either — it is more of a place to find information about the system, rather than a place to search the system’s holdings or interact with a librarian.

What causes these differences? Gastelum quotes Katya Butrón at El Colegio de México, who says that “Most patrons have a negative perception of a library as an uncomfortable and uninviting space, a place for duty instead of pleasure.” Gastelum continues that

According to Butrón, attending a library is not part of Mexican culture. Even when the heavy governmental presence is not obvious for patrons, “the popular feeling is that libraries are just like any other of the many inefficient public services, ” she explains.

Authorities within the Mexican government are aware of this challenge, and have responded with a national literacy program (“Hacia un País de Lectores,” or “Towards a Country of Readers,” begun in 2001 by President Vicente Fox) and the construction of a new central library in Mexico City. This library, the Biblioteca de México José Vasconcelos, is in Gastelum’s words

…The “brain” or mother branch of all public libraries in Mexico. All the branches in the country’s 32 states will be connected electronically to this main branch, which hosts the country’s largest collection. Currently featuring half a million books, the building will eventually house 1.5 million volumes. Designed to serve 15,000 users a day, the 125,000-square-foot building by Mexican architect Alberto Kalach features 750 computers with free Internet access.

Entrada principal, by joseluisl

Biblioteca Vasconcelos, by rageforst

Images by joseluisl and rageforst, used under the Creative Commons license.

While this does sound like an enviable project, Butrón argues that a library like the Vasconcelos library represents the wrong approach to building a national interest in public libraries. She calls for a more localized approach, with more diversity of materials between different branch libraries within the system. The Digital Divide has also been a factor, with librarians in more remote parts of Mexico (and by extension less Internet access) saying a project like this does little to serve the needs of their patrons.

With this situation in mind, Gastelum calls for “a much needed dialogue” on the direction of librarianship in Mexico. She notes annual conferences put on by Asociación Mexicana de Bibliotecarios (AMBAC), Mexico’s equivalent of the American Library Association. Steven Kerchoff, Information Resource Officer for public affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico and library advocate, notes that at these conferences

[Mexican librarians] talk about outreach, they talk about advocacy, how to promote their library services to users and to people who are in a position to make decisions about funding… Library advocacy has been a hot issue in the States for a while and it’s now becoming really important in Mexico.

Challenges like these will be a part of any dialogue on future directions for Mexican libraries (just like they will be a part of any dialogue on future directions for public libraries in many countries). Time will tell how these issues and the dialogue they create play out, but both Butrón and Hortensia Lobato, Vice President of AMBAC, are optimistic that Mexican libraries and librarians will continue to integrate themselves into the bedrock of Mexican culture, both as a place to find information, and as a place to strengthen a local community.

Written by sigiii

May 21, 2008 at 9:11 pm

Two library and technology projects in Guatemala

Going through the archives of the excellent Global Voices citizen journalism website, I saw this post by Renata Avila. Renata describes a pair of projects underway in Guatemala — one developing library services for children, and the other implementing technology in Guatemalan schools.

Somewhat similar to Chile’s BiblioRedes project, The library project is called Caldo de Piedra. In their words, they are

…A charity that manages and stocks children’s libraries. These libraries are operated by parents and the community in support of local public and private schools to help girls and boys discover that learning is part of their lives. We believe in education in its broadest sense, where books are at the heart of an array of creative and artistic projects that engage children in a love of learning.

Edulibre’s website is written in Spanish, but Renata provides a translation of their mission statement:

Edulibre is a project by volunteers, professionals and students wishing to improve the access to technology for elementary school kids. Each of them gives their time by helping in different areas of the non- profit project.

They also maintain an Edulibre blog here.

Contributed by Aaron Bowen